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Mara Leamon

What is Special Education?
The legal definition of special education states that it is “specially
designed instruction, at no cost to the parents, to meet the unique needs of a child.” But
what does that definition mean to students, parents, or even teachers? Parents fear the
term ‘special education’ when discussing their child, general education teachers turn a
cheek to special education, and students labeled as one with a disability feel left out and
embarrassed. If all of these people truly understood what special education is, maybe
these negative attitudes towards this specially designed instruction would begin to vanish.
To parents, it must be a scary feeling being called into the office to discuss their
student, especially when it involves the words disability or special education. Their child
is not just picked out of a crowd and put into special education. There is a three tiered
process that goes into observing a student for a disability. This process is called Response
to Intervention and it is meant to differentiate between the student having trouble and the
student with a disability. Tier one is teaching all students with a standards-based
curriculum, mostly equal to a general education classroom. Tier two is teaching and small
group interventions which means continuing to teach the general curriculum while adding
additional instruction in small group. Tier three is increased intensity and frequency of
interventions with specially trained instructor which tends to be in smaller groups with a
specialized curriculum and a specially trained educator. If a student is still not responding
at an acceptable rate at this tier, teachers and/or parents may decide to do further
evaluations for chance of a disability. If a student is found to have a disability, they will
then receive an Individual Education Plan (IEP). An Individualized Education Plan,

usually called an IEP, is a legally binding document that specializes a student’s education
developed based on a student’s goal chart and outlining how, when, where, and for how
long the student’s educational needs will be met. The student’s IEP will be re-evaluated
each year in order to make changes when needed. Most students with a disability or in
special education will be in general education classrooms with supports and services in
class or in the general education classroom with part time in a resource classroom to
focus more on exactly what the student needs during that time. For more severe cases of
special education, there are special contained classrooms. The process for determining
eligibility for special education is lengthy and the process after remains lengthy and
detailed oriented only to make sure that student is receiving all the services they need.
Some general education teachers fear special education students because they
worry they will disrupt their classroom, take away from other students, or simply add
another task to their already growing to do list. The teacher should know that every
student is capable of learning and should strive to see that child succeed. Special
education may add a few more task to the list but it is also another student succeeding
and willing to learn. Most teachers teach by the Universal Design for Teaching (UDL)
which is ways of teaching that provides multiple ways of learning and practice to meet
the needs of all students in the class or school. For some students, not just special
education student, a teacher might need to break that UDL style of teaching down a little
more. Differentiated instruction is a way of teaching that provides the specific
instructional strategies and tools to meet the needs of specific individuals and it is just
one part of the UDL. Some students might learn differently and at different rates and
differentiated instruction can help meet the needs of those who are not at the exact level

of others and can also allow the teacher to meet the specific needs of each of the students,
not just one or two. There is also direct instruction which can help students who are low
achieving, students with different learning approaches, English Language Learners, and
those from diverse backgrounds and co-teaching which can allow teachers to focus on
certain students or small groups. There are many strategies that teachers can use for
teaching students with disabilities that can also be applied to the class as a whole. Having
a special education student in the classroom is not a burden, but rather a chance to do
things a little differently.
A student with a disability is often teased by their classmates for needing different
things than the rest of the class. A student receiving special education should not feel
ashamed or embarrassed for needing modifications or accommodations. They should feel
valued that they are different and strive to show how successful they can be. Selfregulation is key to individual success and it puts the responsibility of learning into the
hands of the student, by teaching them an effective approach to use throughout their lives.
Special education is not used to hinder a student or make them feel left out; it is designed
to make the student succeed at their best abilities, whether that means with
accommodations, which can change the way a student is learning but does not change the
information that they are learning, or with modifications, which means they are learning
less than what the standards say. Either way, these ways of teachings, strategies,
modifications, accommodations, meetings with teachers and administrators, and yearly
check-ups and plans are all to ensure the success of the student. Education is something
that everyone has the right to. Just because a student has a disability, they should not be
denied the same access to learning as everyone else.

Special education can be a scary thing to parents, teachers, and students but if it is
explained in the correct way and completed thoroughly and correctly, there is nothing to
be scared of. Special education is designed to meet the unique needs of the student to
ensure them their educational needs are being met and new goals are being accomplished.
Special education is just a different pathway to success.